A Buck of a Lifetime - 2021 Archery Hunt
I placed a couple of cameras out in the woods in the summer, not expecting much and primarily hoping to find a doe since I would be hunting in the city and needed to tag a doe before I could start looking for a anything with antlers. After pulling my cards for the first time, I was shocked when I started looking through them. A couple of fork-horns, a small 8 point, another small 8-point, and then I believe “Oh… My… God…” came out of my mouth as I watched a video that started with nothing in view, then slowly off the left side of the screen a deer walked into view. This buck had everything a deer hunter could want in a mature buck. Heavy, tall, a kicker of the left G2, and the main beams almost wrapped around and touched. I had seen a few nice bucks on trail camera before, but nothing like this before.
On the opening morning of the MN archery season, I geared up with my new First Lite gear, grabbed my new Bowtech Solution SS I had been shooting all summer long, and excitedly headed into the woods on a dark September morning. I climbed up in a hang-on stand that I had placed a few weeks earlier. The dark walk in was just as familiar as any other year except as I was almost to my stand I saw something reflect off my headlamp just ahead of me. A set of eyes glowed in the darkness as my light wasn’t bright enough to even see a silhouette. I’ve seen this many times and right away I just figured it was a deer, but it didn’t run off like a deer typically would. I backtracked a few yards and took a longer path to my stand. After getting set up I could hear something coming towards me, but it was well before first light. I could hear something getting closer sniffing through the leaves along the path that I had walked in on. I wasn’t able to see what was circling the tree below me but sat tight until it eventually walked off.
Eventually, the sun came up and I was able to get my bearings. The first hour of daylight was uneventful, but then I heard something running through the woods. I looked up and saw a deer running 60-70 yards away and then just after she had passed a wolf came running through from the same direction I had seen the glowing eyes in the dark walk away in.
I was distracted looking over my shoulder trying to see if I could see the deer or the wolf. Then I started looking around and spotted another doe on the other side of my stand. Almost as soon as I spotted her, she stopped, turned, and started walking right towards me. I grabbed my bow and made a couple of quick ranges of where I thought she might walk. I watched as she walked by my 35-yard tree, then my 20-yard tree, and then kept coming. I could not have asked for a better shot as the doe stopped slightly quartering away inside of 10 yards. I drew back and just kept pulling as my arrow released and shot through directly behind the front leg and stuck in the dirt. Only a few hours into my first hunt of the year and I had a doe on the ground.
Now with meat in the freezer and an antlerless tag punched I was able to start hunting the biggest deer I have ever seen on one of my trail cameras. I started extremely excited until I started checking my trail cameras looking for this buck, but week after week only saw smaller fork-horns and a few smaller 8-point bucks. I started to assume this deer had just happened to walk past my camera in its summer zone and must have moved on to a completely different area.
I spent another handful of hunts without seeing much for deer other than a fork-horn that had stopped at 30 yards to gain his breath after chasing a doe and fawn around all morning.
I was planning a trip to Montana to help a friend fill a mule deer tag the second week of November that I was looking forward to, but knew my time in the stand would be limited during the rut. I had one more day to hunt before I had a full day of steelhead guiding and then needed to start my way out west.
The morning was just like any other. A crisp day after the leaves had fallen. I took my time walking out to my stand as the leaves were crunching under my boots. The light wind was not ideal for this stand location (the same stand I had shot my doe out of on the opening morning), but I had been moving my climber around the woods without much success so I decided to risk it. For the first two hours of the hunt, I was second-guessing my stand location as there isn’t much that is pushing deer in my direction other than a minor draw in the topography that I was hoping was enough to give deer a sense of cover as they traveled through the woods.
Just about the time I was thinking I should have sat in a different stand I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. I immediately saw more antler points than I could count on a deer that was walking right down the draw that leads 20 yards from my stand. I’m not exactly sure what went through my head, but I do remember thinking about how the wind was blowing directly towards where the buck would be walking. I slowly and not-so-calmly grabbed my bow and hooked it on my release. I watched out of the corner of my eye as he walked towards a downed tree I had ranged earlier at 20 yards. I drew back my bow as he was walking behind one of two trees left before an open shooting lane. I was hoping to grunt at him to stop him before he was directly downwind of me, but unfortunately, as I grunted, he stopped directly behind the last tree before the open lane. I held at full draw thinking that I had just blown it and he was going to wind me, but he slowly started walking again. Fearing that if I tried to stop him again he would bust I decided to shoot as he was still walking. As steady as I could be I gapped my 20 and 30-yard pins behind his shoulder and shot just as he moved his right shoulder forward. I watched as the arrow zipped through about 8 inches behind the front shoulder. He jumped over a down tree and went maybe 30 or 40 yards before stopping and looking back. There he was at 60 yards looking back broadside and I almost had a clear shot other than a few overhanging branches.
I watched him take a couple of slow steps before dropping. I thought that was it, but he still had his head up and was only 70 yards away. All I could see was antlers through some branches as I was waiting for him to go down. After 30 minutes I finally watched him lay his head down and I thought that was it until I heard leaves crunching from below a ridge. I watched as a medium-sized 8-point buck came walking up directly towards the buck I had just shot. The first time I have experienced seeing a buck and wishing I hadn’t. For the next 15 minutes, I watched as the buck circled the buck I had just shot and pushed him further and further away. Eventually once I lost sight of them I decided to back out and come back a few hours later.
It is a bitter-sweet moment to the extreme knowing that I had shot the biggest buck of my life, but also the idea that I may not recover the biggest buck of my life. The hind-sights, thoughts, and what-ifs, start floading my head for the next 5 hours as I was impatiently to go back to the woods. After I finally felt like I had taken enough time I walked back into the spot I had last seen him. As I slowly crunched through the leaves I heard rustling in the leaves and looked up to see my buck running off. I had blown it. Everything I had read and experienced told me that that buck could be up to a mile away after bumping him.
I opened up my onX app, marked my location, marked where I thought the deer was and the direction he was going. I backed out and made a huge loop around to hopefully get downwind and in the direction, he was traveling. I snuck up and sat in front of a tree, but after 20 minutes I decided to get up and move a little closer. Just as I was getting up I heard something up ahead. It was the buck again. I could only see the back of his antlers as he ran off over another hillside. I had blown it again I thought as I walked up to the path he was on and marked another location. After backing out again and driving home to try and calm myself down I talked to my wife and she convinced me that I need to try one last time. She came with me as we drove to a new area to where he might have gone towards.
With just over an hour of light left, we walked in towards a new spot I had marked on my onX. For the third time that day, I heard crashing in the leaves as I quickly drew back my bow and watched the buck get up from behind a pile of down trees on the edge of a hill. He was only clear from branches as he started heading back over the hill. I let an arrow fly then quickly grabbed for another as I started running up the hill. There were so many down trees I was hopping from tree to tree while knicking another arrow. I saw him again running from my right to left. I could only see the top half of him as he was running behind a down tree and I shot again. I saw hair fly up and the deer disappeared. I ran over to where I had last seen him find him piled up next to a downed tree. It was finally over. A long and emotional day was finally coming to the end and I was able to put my hands on the biggest whitetail buck of my life as the sun was setting.
The mental challenges of the day were finally over, but the physical ones had just begun. I still needed to get this giant buck out of the blown-down woods and now the sun had gone down.
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